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The Ethical Path for Facebook PR

Facebook Trilemma Solution

Bob Pickard has one of the largest networks of PR pros in the world. He recently offered his community a Twitter poll of the organization you’d least want to speak for nowadays, with three options: Exxon, Philip Morris, or Facebook. Facebook was on top with 66 of 169 votes:

We didn’t see anyone quip “seems harsh” as you do on Twitter (we didn’t check Facebook) so we thought we should. At Verb we like tech companies, we have friends at Facebook, including in their PR team, and we would be happy to work with them. Also, we don’t smoke and we want a Tesla. How come more of our PR colleagues would rather speak for carbon monoxide than tech?

One reason is that Facebook’s PR has been dismal. People close to the company have even been trying to pitch in by amending their public statements:

Imagine being at Facebook PR right now. Would you take advice from former teammates? We didn’t think so. Even well-intentioned outside advice is the last thing you need. What you really need as a Facebook PR person is access to the company leadership. They are the ones who need an urgent outside view.

A Case of “PR Fiasco”

We suspect this is a case of “PR fiasco.” That is, a company makes a horrible business decision thinking it best, and then call it a PR fiasco when it blows up. For example, the BP Gulf spill is the consequence of drilling too deep underwater without any way to stop the flow closer to the well. Calling it a PR fiasco is to take the effect and make it the cause, as in the White Stripes song:

You can’t take the effect and make it the cause

As any PR person knows, access to leadership is indispensable and also very hard to get. It’s one of those things that you work for years ahead of needing it. We doubt anyone who could help Facebook has access to leadership. The whistleblower clearly doesn’t, and she’s been doing some of the best communications on the business problem we ever saw:

Verb is a Facebook customer after studying the platform and running some fun campaigns to understand its power. We are closer to Facebook’s heart than the whistleblower. At close to $100 billion of revenue per year from a product—Facebook and Instagram ads—that any organization worldwide can buy with just a credit card, Facebook sure has millions of customers of every size and industry like us. We think that Facebook should talk to us.

What Should Facebook Say?

What should they say? Crisis expert Fred Garcia of Logos would reply that’s the wrong question. Instead, he would say that Facebook should ask themselves, “What would reasonable people appropriately expect a responsible organization or leader to do when facing this kind of situation?”

In other words, forget about redacting the “stolen” documents or telling the whistleblower’s story for her. Tell me how you’ll never run my ads next to a human trafficker’s ones, or together with posts that make teens want to hurt themselves, or with ads for super-human strength supplements. The longer you take to do that, the more you act like we are in the same business with those folks.

And we are not. “All” we want is a way to talk to the public that’s effective and affordable. We get there’s a dilemma between efficient and trustworthy communications! You are not the first ad company to have ever existed. Instead, you were the first to offer B2B leads at $5 per lead across countries and languages by reaching people on their mobiles. We give you credit for that.

The Trilemma Solution

Here’s where communication experts can help after all. In his book about communication ethics, author Steve May talks about “the trilemma solution:”

“A creative means to move beyond the ethical dilemma by appreciating the tension between the two values”

Steve May

We don’t know what that would be in your case, Facebook, though we have some ideas and a proposal. But if we told you what the solution was, we would be the ones running your shop.